We fly out to meet Indian superstar Mandeep Singh
Sandeep Singh looks forward to the start of the star-studded Hockey India League
PLAYED under the shadow of a global economic slowdown and cash crunch in India due to the demonetisation of the currency’s two biggest bills, the Hockey India League aspires to be launch pad for hockey festivities in the new year.
With interest in hockey peaking in the aftermath of India’s title win in the FIH Men’s Junior World Cup, the organisers and franchise owners are hopeful of the league attracting a huge audience.
Seeking to promote field goals to enhance the attraction of hockey, the Hockey India League last season devised the rule of field goals counting for two goals. The full impression of this rule on the spectators became evident toward the last stages of the competition last season.
This rule of two goals for every open-play strike is the reason top dollars are now being paid by the franchise owners for strikers – compared to defenders and penalty corner shooters.
To be precise, the Hockey India League’s scorebooks will record two goals for every field goal, as well as goals scored through a penalty stroke that gets awarded when a deliberate foul prevents a goal on a penalty corner shot.
With just eight foreign players permitted in each squad, the franchise owners are being extremely selective and there will be additional pressure on the boys to deliver.
One player who can play without feeling any pressure is Ashley Jackson, who last year captained Ranchi Rays, the team co-owned by Indian cricketer Mahendra Singh Dhoni, who quit the captaincy of the Indian team for the one-day internationals against the touring England side starting this week.
Having led India in 199 limitedover internationals, Dhoni has quit as the country’s most successful captain, but will still play in the one-dayers against England.
Many of the Ranchi Rays players closely follow the cricket and it could lead to an interesting debate with Jackson, says Indian national squad’s centre-half Manpreet Singh, who plays alongside Jackson in the Ranchi squad.
“Ashley follows cricket very closely and many a time he brings to the table what Dhoni would do with his cricket team. Apart from keeping the team together as one unit, Ashley tells us that we need to have Dhoni’s winning spirit even when we concede early goals,” says Manpreet, adding that trying to emulate Dhoni’s famous helicopter shot was one of the favourite pastimes of the Ranchi Rays hockey team.
The league will feature some of the world’s top hockey stars, but young Indian strikers – Mandeep Singh, Simranjeet Singh and Gurjant Singh – will be keenly watched by the home fans as their prowess against seasoned players will be judged by the number of field goals they can score.
Featuring six teams, the league will run until the title encounter on February 26.
Star turn: Mandeep Singh is one of the competition’s biggest crowd pullers